Environmental Health

Hazardous Waste in Seattle

What types of hazardous waste sites are located in Seattle?

  • Throughout Seattle there are multiple types of waste sites including, but not limited to Brownfield sites and Superfund sites. Their locations can be seen on the map below.

What is a Superfund site?

  • A Superfund site is a site where toxic wastes have been dumped and the Environmental Protection Agency has designated them to be cleaned up.

What is a Brownfield?

  • A Brownfield site is land previously used for industrial purposes or some commercial uses. The land may be contaminated by low concentrations of hazardous waste or pollution, and has the potential to be reused once it is cleaned up.

What are the impacts of Superfunds and Brownfields?

  • The cleaning up of Superfunds is a great asset and improvement to the local environment of Seattle, which in turn can improve the economic conditions of the area. Brownfields, on the other hand, are hindrances to the local economy and environment. They cause the land around them to become harder to inhabit due to the pollution that they bring.

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Air Quality

Clean Air Act

The Clean Air Act passed by the U.S. government has strict provisions for the maintenance of air quality throughout the United States as illustrated below:

  • Calls for states and EPA to solve multiple air pollution problems through programs based on the latest science and technology information
  • EPA has established air quality standards for six common "criteria pollutants": particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and lead
  • States are required to adopt enforceable plans to achieve and maintain air quality meeting the air quality standards
  • State plans also must control emissions that drift across state lines and harm air quality in downwind states
  • Calls for areas such as power plants and factories to use the best available technology, and allows less stringent standards for existing sources

Seattle Air Quality

Air quality in Seattle tends to be good to moderate quality, rarely becoming polluted enough that it is unhealthy to breathe. Harmful things that could be seen in the air include:

  • Particulate matter (linked with respiratory disease, decreased lung function, asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death)
  • Ozone (reduced lung function, respiratory irritation, aggravated asthma symptoms, and weakened immune system)
  • Sulfur dioxide (increased asthma symptoms)
  • Carbon monoxide (decreased oxygen carrying-capacity in the blood, weakens heart contractions)
  • Lead (adverse health effects ranging from behavioral problems and learning disabilities to seizures and death)

Water Quality

Of 211 water pollutants that the government mandates testing for in water, Seattle water only contained trace amounts of 10 of those, meaning that Seattle has a very high quality of water. The 10 pollutants that did show up were all naturally occurring and not harmful to the body. Seattle water comes in part from the Cedar River and in part from the South Fork Tolt River. Both of these sources begin in the Cascade Mountains in large, protected watersheds.

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Health Status

Birth Outcomes

Only 59.1 of infants born per 1000 are born with a low birth weight in the Seattle area, as compared to 81 per 1000 nationally. Also, there are only 4.85 deaths per 1000 live births, as opposed to 6.8 per 1000 nationally. These two rates work to show that overall birth outcome is very positive in this region

Cancer Rates

The EPA puts people living in the Seattle region at a risk of 58 in a million for developing cancer due to air pollution, as can be seen on the chart below.

How can you help?

Although Seattle does have a good to moderate quality of air, it can ALWAYS improve. That's where you come in. Every day people from age 16 up drive somewhere throughout the entire city. At some point while they're driving, chances are that they remain idle for an extended period of time. Many people don't realize the adverse effects of this idling. In order to increase awareness and stop unnecessary idling, we need to spread the word through flyers and through talk! It's as easy as shutting off your car instead of idling, anyone can do it at any time. The effects can be seen in an increase in the AIQ (measure of air quality) in Seattle.

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If everyone in just the area shown in this map were to reduce the amount that they idle in their cars by just the slightest amount, the effects to both the air quality of Seattle and the air quality of the surrounding regions would be astounding. It's just as simple as turning a key. This is why we are designating every second Wednesday of each month as an "Idling Awareness Action day" meant to spread the word about the harmful effects of idling.

By: Tristan Short